Actraiser 2 (SNES) Review

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The Short

Pros

  • Absolutely gorgeous graphics
  • Some interesting platforming and game mechanics
  • 14 total stages
  • Music is great (though it’s no “Fillmore from Actraiser)
  • Gliding, flying, and the shield are cool mechanics to add to the platforming
  • Fairly forgiving (unlimited continues, and stages are relatively short)

Cons

  • All the city-management simulation is gone from Actraiser, leaving just a platformer
  • Save feature was removed for a password system, ick.
  • Game is incredibly difficult, even on the Easiest setting
  • While the mechanics are cool, the controls are frustrating
  • The Master seems slippery on platforms, often missing jumps I swear he should have gotten
  • Story is extremely condensed when compared to the first game
It's time to take a walk in the valley of death.

It’s time to take a walk in the valley of death.

The Long

Ho boy, we’re finally doing Actraiser 2, huh? I’ll try my damndest to not let my disappointment seep too much into this review.

It’s no secret I’m a giant fan of Actraiser. Despite the fact the game was pretty short and some of its mechanics could have been fleshed out further, the game is a fun diversion with great music, graphics, and gameplay. Honestly, all it really needed in a sequel was marginal improvements on the mechanics already in place. Buff up the platforming, add more variation to the city-building, and you’d have a great sequel. Does Actraiser 2 pull this off?

Well…it improves the platforming…or at least adds a lot more to it. So that’s a step forward. And then it takes out the city building. Completely. The one thing that made Actraiser so unique. So that’s one massive step back.

But I’m going to approach the game as if it doesn’t have the pedigree it does, and instead look at it as an action-platformer. Does it still stand up to the plethora of other offerings on the early Nintendo platforms? Read on.

The Sky Palace. Now with 80% less usefulness.

The Sky Palace. Now with 80% less usefulness.

Earth is stricken again, this time with demons taking on the forms of the seven deadly sins (or they did, until Nintendo weirdly modified some of them to remove any religious implications). You reprise the role of the Master, a formless deity over all who inhabits avatars by which to purge the world of evil. It’s your job to find these incarnations of sin and deal with them in the most Biblical of senses: by beating the everloving crap out of them. Makes sense to me!

The game does have a semi-nonlinear approach.  You can fly your Sky Palace anywhere over the map, and from the get-go select which of the handful of stages you want to tackle first. Each sin has two stages to beat, and after you kill them all you have a final boss, so fourteen real stages in total (final boss doesn’t…really count). Stages are pretty short when compared to other platformers at the time, which one might view as a bad thing, but I honestly think it’s a pro based on some stuff I’m going to address later. So be excited for that.

One of the Sins is a giant, gross snail. I can dig it.

One of the Sins is a giant, gross snail. I can dig it.

The Master’s arsenal has buffed up quite a bit. Instead of possessing some purple/blue guy with a giant sword, he’s now an angelic pillar of godliness. With your newfound wings comes some new abilities, particularly flight and a striking dive. By jumping twice you can launch into a diagonal strike which, when hitting the ground, causes a short distance of deceleration. This move takes a long time to master (ha ha, pun intended?), but it’s worth it as the diving strike does double weapon damage. Aside from that, you have a wider range of sword slashes, as well as more uses for magic, as each now has multiple spells to cast based on your current position (ducking, walking, etc., kind of like Smash Bros oddly enough). Lastly, you also have a shield, which is ideal for deflecting obnoxious ranged attacks.

Unfortunately, in getting super buff it seems the Master skipped leg day, as his avatar of righteousness moves absurdly slow. If he and Toki got in a race, Toki might win, and Toki is a crippled monkey. This, right off the bat, is one of the first big flaws you’ll notice in the game. Well, aside from the citybuilding sections being freaking gone. But I’m really trying hard to not focus on that.

The number of skulls and demons in this game make Castlevania look tame.

The number of skulls and demons in this game make Castlevania look tame.

Let’s just address this all at once: Actraiser 2 is pretty damn tough. And the saddest bit is I don’t think it has to be. The biggest problem is the enemies: they take a crapload of hits to fell, even the weak cannon fodder ones, and at times it feels like they’re just everywhere. They pop out and move a jillion times faster than you, and as you’re trying to recover from the onslaught your only escape is a pathetic dive which will just as likely send you sliding off a cliff than save you. The powerful (or at least, very healthy) enemies mixed with the clunky controls are Actraiser 2‘s biggest failing.

Aside from that, some of the platforming is wonky, which is bad in a game that has several platforming segments. Aside from the frustration mentioned above (protip: if you hit “jump” right before a dive lands, you’ll lose the attack but cancel the slide, which is the only way to use it effectively. I figured now’s a good as time as any to toss that “tip” in…), often times I swore I’d made a landing, only to have the Master bump his big toe on the edge and just barely not make it. In a game where even getting to the platforms is a challenge (or, at the least, an extremely slow long walk), dying because of bad hit detection is aggravating.

Nintendo's censors: only working when they feel like it.

Nintendo’s censors: only working when they feel like it.

There is a silver lining to all this, and it’s once you’ve gotten a hang of how clunky the Master controls (preferably on the “Easy” difficulty), the game actually gets pretty fun. Stages are fairly short and, despite having obnoxious platforming, can be conquered usually in a few tries. You have unlimited continues that basically spit you out right where you left off, so it’s not a huge setback. One thing that is missing is the first game’s save system, which seems a misguided step back (it’s now done with passwords, barf).

Essentially, you have to play this game like you would Dark Souls. Take it relatively slow, master the controls, and memorize the levels. Expect to fail frequently, but after each failure pick yourself back up and learn the stage again. Enemies are unfair. Platforming is unfair. But, with trial and error and some determination, you’ll be able to master it (ha, that pun again!). Whether you really want to spend that time on this game is the deciding factor.

Terrible foe or frog dancing to a shroom boombox? You decide!

Terrible foe or frog dancing to a shroom boombox? You decide!

If one thing can be said with certainty it’s that Actraiser 2 is downright gorgeous. All the sprites are phenomenally drawn and animated, with a wide variety of enemies and locations. Backgrounds also have some incredible artwork, with equally impressive SNES effects layered over them. The downside is the large sprites (and all the other graphical effects) does lead to some slowdown from time to time, but it was never enough to ruin my fun. I’d honestly go so far to say as this game is worth owning just because it’s so pretty; I really think it’s one of the best looking SNES games out there (both technically and stylistically).

The music is your usual orchestrated Enix fare. Yozo Koshiro from Actraiser is back, and his tunes are surprisingly orchestral pieces that’s you’d sooner expect on a modern game than something from the SNES era. This makes the music feel technically superior but overall less memorable, which can be good or bad depending on your opinion. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything I was going to listen too after the game.

 

Rumor is that when Enix approached Quintet about a sequel to Actraiser, they specifically requested the removal of the city-building portions because us Americans were too dumb to enjoy the slower-paced gameplay. While this might just be a myth perpetuated due to some similar feelings at the time (see: Mario 2Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest), if you are looking for an action game with themes of world reclamation and citybuilding, Quintet made that series shortly after (see: Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and the non North America released Terranigma), all of which are fantastic. Actraiser 2 still has themes of reclamation and recreation (like all Quintet games, it seems), they’re just not as directly involved, which makes this game a bit of an black sheep in their game collection.

Still, despite being both annoyed and frustrated at first glance, I found a lot to like in Actraiser 2. The graphics and music are great, the stages can be great fun, and I enjoyed the themes and all the bosses particularly. However, it is a very frustrating game, and those who liked the first one won’t find much similar here to sink their teeth into. You have to have patience for Actraiser 2, and it’s understandable if you aren’t willing to give it that long of a chance (it’s first impression is pretty rotten).

Does it deserve the incredibly bad rap it gets from fans of the series? Absolutely not. But is it an excellent sequel to Actraiser? No, it isn’t that either. It’s a decent, difficult platformer that looks great and asks a lot of you. If you want that, get it. If you don’t, just play Actraiser again.

Now make a modern day reboot, Square-Enix! The time is now! I NEED IT. Just…put the world building stuff in this time, ok?

Three out of five stars.

Some days, even god doesn't want to go into work.

Some days, even god doesn’t want to go into work.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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